“There’s an alternative life waiting and it comes with a beach but you need to have the guts to take that first step because, as everyone is aware, via those inspirational quotes – that first step on the journey to a new life is always the hardest.”
Telling lies to get a job I don’t really want but definitely need is not how I usually like to spend my time on a sweltering autumn day, but it’s what I’ll be doing for most of the next thirty or so minutes. Sitting in the reception area, I watch the air-bubbles float to the top of a water-cooler and my thoughts, although I’ve been trying to keep them focused on the barrage of stock questions I’ll no doubt be hit with, keep wandering to a beach-bar I frequented on the island of Ko Phai.
With its ice-white sands, inspirational sunsets and crystal clear waters, Ko Phai is a jaded travel copywriter’s wet dream if, that is, the copy-writer had ever taken the time to visit and write about it, instead of just regurgitating the descriptions written by other writers who have also never traveled there.
Online travel writers never go to these places; they simply read and repeat while futilely failing not to dip into their big bag of copywriting cliches. There are millions of articles out there written by people sitting in their apartments, wishing that they were actually lying on those pristine, powder-soft sands that shelve gently into bath-water warm, sea waters – the lingo should be instantly recognizable.
The irony is that these articles will usually end up on blogs owned by people who may or may not be traveling the world but will, whilst drinking a cool Tequila and lime down Mexico way, take the time out to write about that fabulous meal they had last week in a Dubai restaurant or that luxury but ‘discounted during the low season’ hotel they stayed at while back-packing around Europe – the one with the amazing views of the Eiffel Tower – here’s a photo of the hotel room and look, there’s the tower itself, you can see it from your window as you lie on that sumptuous king size bed. Don’t you just wish you were here?
Unless you’re an online travel copywriter you probably won’t have noticed the amount of blogs and websites set up by people, now called ‘travelers’, who have decided that the rat-race of long hours and low wages had pushed them to the edge, and they just couldn’t “take this crap anymore, man”, and it’s only logical that when you can no longer face the working day without running through the rainbow of emotions from mildly depressed to violently angry, the next step is always to sell everything you own, travel the world for a year or two, maybe forever, and write about it. Or in reality, pay copywriters to write about it for you.
Readers of these ubiquitous, inspirational lifestyle websites will also probably never notice the hidden advertising integrated into every article, because that’s part of the copywriter’s job – to make the reader completely oblivious to the fact that what they’re actually reading is one big advert, paid for by the travel industry.
The seeds of desire are gently sown as the reader skims over the text and gazes at the high-res images of luxury beach resorts featuring a range of exciting daily activities such as diving off the coast of Sharm El-Shiek or speed-boating across the bluest of lagoons in sun-blessed Goa. The copywriter knows that the reader no doubt also wants to leave their every-day drudgery behind, travel the world and just enjoy life while they can. Why else would they be reading these articles at work instead of getting down to the business of filling in those never-ending spreadsheet boxes.
There’s an alternative life waiting and it comes with a beach but you need to have the guts to take that first step because, as we are all aware via those inspirational quotes – that first step on the journey to a new life is always the hardest.
But it’s scary to just give up on your life. There are bills to consider, family and friends to let down by running away, and finding a job in today’s economic climate, when the money does run out and the inevitable return to reality happens, just isn’t as easy as it once was. Plus, you don’t want to come off looking like some mid-life crisis loser by simply saying ‘fuck-it all’. Maybe better to dip your toe in the waters with a two week vacation.
Right there, next to the article, is a little button that can be clicked to take you through to the travel company, or maybe the name of the company has been highlighted in the text and there’s even a convenient hyperlink – just click on that and you’re on your way. That lonely little copywriter sitting working from home or from a digital marketing company office, the one wishing they were traveling the world, that’s who you should thank for your upcoming vacation-leading-perhaps-but-probably-not to a new life abroad. They planted a desire you didn’t even know you had and then a few minutes later, they fulfilled that desire. Job done.
And the big business wheel keeps on turning.
I’m well aware that during this interview I have to convey that I can lie to the public with the best of the ad-men and marketers out there and that I have absolutely no qualms about doing so. But I can’t actually come straight out and say it. No employer wants to be told that their employee knows that their business is a complete sham built on manipulation and lies because then they’re basically saying that the employer is a fake, or someone devoid of any principles whatsoever, or maybe, worst of all, a sell-out – if they ever had any semblance of integrity in the first place. Then again, the words ‘business’ and ‘integrity’ are kind of a contradiction in terms but that’s not something I’ve ever given too much thought to.
But when it comes to this type of job interview, I know that I have to lie about the lies I’m going to be telling others. I have to make the employer aware that I have the ability to sell a dream, whatever dream it is they’re pushing, and I have to sell it to people in an almost subliminal way – plant and fulfill – as well as making the customer, sorry, reader, think that it’s a decision they stumbled upon themselves and that they’ve simply suddenly woken up and realized what was missing from their life – that this is what will lead them to enlightenment, although enlightenment is pretty much bullshit and the more important selling factor is – happiness.
It’s something I can do well; it’s something I’m actually good at. I mean, I must be. I sold that dream to myself and had been allegedly living it for the last three months.
But for now, I have to sell myself.
“Did you? Well I’m sorry to be so unoriginal.”
I internally grimace as soon as the statement leaves my mouth, and I can see that Chet, Marketing Architect, whatever that means, is offended enough to verbally retaliate. It’s really too late in the interview for me to be screwing this up now, not when I’m doing so well. Chet hooks his thumbs through his red braces, (why he’s wearing them I have no idea. Maybe it’s an ironic, retro ‘80s Wall Street thing), but the silence and staring means that I need to reign this back in.
“No…I didn’t mean that.” I raise my hands up, palms outwards in a ‘no offence’ gesture. “I just, you know, I really want this job, and as a freelancer it’s been a while since I had to sit an actual face to face interview. A few years at least. And I was looking up all those…you know, those how to ace the interview articles, because I was nervous, which is why I said that I knew you were going to ask that. Wrong thing to say, completely. It’s a great question and I understand the motivation behind it.”
“Well, I looked into your company and it seems to have achieved great things in a short space of time, especially in the field I want to get back into. I also think that my skills could definitely be put to good use here.” Plus it’s a fifteen minute walk from my apartment.
“But you’re in travel copywriting. I noticed on your resume that you did work in a publishing agency but only for a year? I mean, is this not out of your comfort zone?”
He’s actually read my resume. Who has the time to do that? Okay, get creative. And remember that he obviously likes business jargon.
“To tell you the truth, I could say that I was an all-rounder but that’s not the reason I changed from publishing to travel. This is about the written word and using these words intelligently and with a degree of stealth, to get the public to buy the product, to believe in the product. Selling a book or an author, building that individual brand from scratch, it’s hard. I know that and I know you know that. For every major, best-selling author out there, there are millions of unknowns – probably more. It’s not my job to find the gold within those unknowns, that’s your job, but it is my job to provide the public with the desire to read the authors and have them as part of their life, now and in the future, when that second or third book arrives.”
And in the case of bad writers, it means I have to gold plate a turd and have readers wearing it as a piece of jewellery to be admired and desired by others.
“I have to make the book buying public believe that these authors are a good fit for their lifestyle or that buying them and carrying these books around lets other people know the sort of person they are.”
“You still haven’t answered why the change.”
“Bear with me. I can create a dialogue, a conversation, between the author and the audience. If you look at the awards won by the marketing companies I’ve worked for, and yes that was in travel, one of the world’s most competitive industries, that proves that I can do that. I understand what the public want to hear, what they buy into, so to speak. How to guide them gently to the aspirations that they should be trying to attain.
Now with travel, I was up against global competition and yes, it’s the same in the publishing industry. It’s the same with almost any company selling a product. I’m not saying that book marketing is easy, because having worked in the industry I know it’s not, but I learned about the art of selling in travel. I sold a million white-sand beach dreams and really, one beach is pretty much the same as another.”
“So how do you manage to make people choose a particular beach? And I’m still not sure I see how this ties in with what we do, specifically, this business.”
“I wasn’t really, when it comes down to it, selling the beaches – you know that. I was selling the company that was taking the people to these beaches. I made people believe that one company, more than any other, could be in charge of the most important two or three weeks of their year because that company came closest to offering the dream-like vacation experience via my descriptions of those idyllic beaches, and if I work for you, I’ll be instilling, in those very same people, a desire to read the books and the authors on those very same beaches I sent them to last year and the year before that.
And they’ll be reading your authors because your company publishes them. Look, people still want to be entertained, even when they’re doing nothing on vacation. And they want to make sure they’ve made the right choice with their vacation book, because making the wrong choice, even over a book, will put a downer on the vacation and it’s wasted time, and they can’t afford to waste time because every minute of that vacation counts. And they’ll be reassured that they’ve made the right choice by your company’s brand name. They’ll know they’re in safe hands.”
I know he’s going to ask again because I still haven’t answered the question of why I changed industries and the reality is that the only reason I changed was for a higher salary. I pre-empt.
“I know the salary you’re offering and to be honest it’s less than I would make in travel. But I want back into publishing. I find it exciting and your company has definitely caught my interest. You’re still quite small and selective. And I’ve seen the type of work you guys do, it’s…” I don’t want to say it but I do anyway, “…cutting edge. You have authors who matter, who actually have something new to say. And if I can believe in something it makes it a lot easier for me to write about and sell to the public. Whether that’s a book dust-jacket, magazine feature, trade review or an online advert.”
Maybe I shouldn’t have said that I was taking a pay-cut. It sounds a little desperate but I know, or at least I think I know, that I’m saying the things he wants to hear, which is, bottom line – I promise I can sell a ton of books for you. I’m confident about my abilities, I’m reassuring about what I can provide and I’m respectful to Chet but not too deferential. I’m conveying that I’m giving him a good deal and that I want this job but that I could easily take my experience elsewhere and some other company will benefit. But most of all, balls on the fucking table, I can make him a shitload of money.
“Well, you’ve definitely given me a lot to think about, Evan, and I’m going to be in touch within the next few days.”
He stands and we shake hands; a firm but not over-powering grip. He’s not one for competitive gestures, which is good because that means he doesn’t see me as threat or feel the need to assert dominance. He sees me I think, as an equal. Those who do try to immediately show their dominance are usually the ones with the largest insecurities. You can easily gauge how deeply insecure a person is via the the all-telling, almost-crushing handshake – they’ve already shown their hand, and a secure person has no need to try to dominate others in this way. In this case however, an insecure boss might have been beneficial. I could have hounded him over the next week or so with emails and phone-calls under the guise of being proactive, until he buckled and gave me the job just to get me off his back.
As we walk towards the door I nod over to a bookshelf where a framed photo sits.
“That’s not you with the beard is it? With Rosa Tietra?”
“Well spotted. Only took that photo a few months ago. You’ve read her?”
“Absolutely. Great writer. One of the reasons I want to work here is because of writers like Tietra, Vesci and of course Brinley.” I’d memorized these names from the company website although he’s already asked me what writers I like during the interview, and honestly, I had read Tietra in Thailand. “Hugely talented,” I continue.“She has a blisteringly cynical yet penetrating perspective on society.”
Don’t over-bake it.
“As I said before about your authors – cutting-edge. Same with getting rid of your beard right? Get out once something becomes the height of fashion, or better still, just before. Otherwise you’re just cramming it with the herd.”
Chet runs his hand across his hairless chin and laughs. “Yeah, thought it was time for a change. Plus, my wife, she definitely didn’t care for it.”
“Well, that works too.”
I’m glad I shaved before this meeting, even though this company is in hipster-central terrain. I’m also guessing that his wife was the only reason he shaved that monstrous slab of hair as opposed to his natural instinct as to what the next big facial-hair trend would be. Like me, he’s too old to really be a hipster and to be honest I really couldn’t give a shit how someone dresses or what mask they wear. I do recognize however, when it comes to first impressions, nine times out ten, you can gauge a lot about a person from one quick look. Plus, flattering a person’s – Christ, that insidious term again – cutting-edge credentials, never hurts during a job interview.
I’ve either got the job or I’ve come across like some blowhard asshole, which come to think of it, is pretty much the predominant personality trait needed to work in online marketing.
How to Lie Like an Online Travel Writer is an excerpt from the forthcoming novel No Offence
About the Author: Garry Crystal
Garry Crystal is a freelance writer living in the UK. His short stories and articles have appeared in print and online including Expats Post, The Andirondack Review, Turnrow Journal, Roadside Fiction and Orato. br> His first book Leaving London is available on Amazon and other retailers now. br> View My Profile